The backstory to THE PLACE OF NO WORDS, directed by Mark Webber (Flesh and Blood), is almost more interesting than the movie itself. The film is produced by husband and wife team Mark Webber and Teresa Palmer (A Discovery of Witches). They play themselves in the film, as does their three-year-old son, Bodhi Palmer. In THE PLACE OF NO WORDS, after Mark becomes ill, the family confronts The Big Question: What happens when we die? Bodhi and Mark set off on a make-believe Viking journey together, discovering a magical land made just for the two of them.
There’s a hyper-meta feeling to watching Webber and Palmer play versions of themselves in both the “real world” and in a “fantasy world” of Vikings and magical beings. Having Bodhi play himself while being directed by his father is an idea that could have easily become mawkish; after all, every parent thinks their kid is the cutest.
But Bodhi’s character is well written and he is comfortable on camera. His acting is very natural. Webber sometimes fed lines to his son, but the crew also blended into Bodhi’s downtime to capture more realistic performances. About their shooting schedule, Mark said “We would shoot for one or two hours a day, and that’s it. And it’s a crew of about five people that I work with, so it’s very different.”
Bodhi does sweet things that all little kids do—asking nonsensical questions, cuddling with his parents, and playing with guns and lightsabers. However, Bodhi’s extreme adorableness can only move the audience so far emotionally, wearing out its welcome around the halfway mark. The loving father-son dynamic is often painfully overwrought with emotion, which is understandable given the topic.
That said, the audience never stops trying to figure out the main queries of the movie: 1) When is Mark going to tell Bodhi that he’s dying? and 2) Will we see the aftermath of his death? Bodhi is very young, and I couldn’t help but wish he was a bit older, as inherently children that young will be unable to grasp complex concepts like death. I won’t spoil these questions, they are the main reason I stayed interested throughout the otherwise drooping second act.
The audio editing is fantastic; it alone is worth watching the movie for. The two worlds often mesh with a conversation from the “real world” playing over footage of the Vikings traipsing through the wilderness. Sometimes sing-songy voices or Classic songs play from Bodhi’s toys over the footage. I loved when the movie dipped into this experimental territory and I think it would have benefited from more of that.
Because overall, the fantasy world isn’t really that fantastic at all. There’s a lot of wooded areas, a farting swamp, and even a handful of fantasy creatures all created by Bodhi’s brimming imagination. THE PLACE OF NO WORDS discovers that magic already lies in the real world through Bodhi’s eyes, in the pain of his father’s adoration, and in loving so much it hurts.